Analysis of Ted Hughes’ selected poems

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            A twentieth century school of thought is a result of two major epochs of history, one is post modernism and the second is the post colonialism. Both of these eras ended in mass suffering despite the loss and gain factor claimed by their survivors. The intellectual cult that erupted in consequence to these types of suffering only depended on the rebellion and defiance of the conventions and existing orders of every circle of life and this process continued with every change in the scenario of this century and eventually lead to a society of individuals struggling for survival in isolation.

Poetry that had been the only and the most influential conduit for the writers since ever literary history traces its origin lost it power to influence the minds of the people due to its limited linguistic, dialectical and stylistic boundaries which could not possibly suffice the extending intensified absurdities of a human mind. Even prose and novel that had been adopted as the modern genres of literature by the writers, which proved to have provided them with multi dimensions of expression could not possibly be saved from being modified for the sake of unconventionality. Therefore the twentieth century proved to be the age of fickle and fluctuating world where a change could not last more than a decade and in this age of continual process of change Ted Hughes sustained and survived as a great poet.

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Although Hughes witnessed a major fraction of the twentieth century yetUg it would be just another hackneyed claim to term Ted Hughes as a mere modern/twentieth century poet afflicted with all those modern world’s dilemmas that broke out inevitably on mankind in consequence of the two destructive wars of the history or as an outbreak of the human psyche of being ruled under the colonial powers. He was a twentieth century poet for being an individual and unique in his treatment of language and imagery in his poetry. And with the help of adopting subjects related to a variety of life around he provided a multifarious uniformity in his attitude of versifying his psychological developments which resulted not because of the global impact only but because of the subtle shifts in his subjective perspectives.

Hughes can play with a mind of a child, he can also animate the maneuvers of a dangerous animal and can make us feel it’s dread with the oxymoronic elaboration of the beauty and charm and in some of his poems with a touch of Nature and her elements Hughes can subtly twitch the aggression of man’s hopelessness and helplessness in the beautiful hands of Nature and her elements. In the words of Seamus Heaney in Hughes poetry, “racial memory, animal instinct and poetic imagination all flow into one another with an exact sensuousness.”

Many critics call Ted Hughes as a poet of animals but that cannot be strictly associated with the stylistic techniques of Hughes. He does possess the quality of animating his senses and imaginations that he relate to his surrounding in to his poems but he also reflects the changing moods of a human mind along with the chronicles of life. It can be quite vividly observed by comparing the poems like “Pike”, “The Seven Sorrows” and “Daffodils” in accordance with the how Hughes has painted his thoughts these poems with a variety of concept and with a dynamic expertise in expressing a varied thought.

The poem “the Seven Sorrows” and “Daffodils” have a reflection of what Hughes said in these lines ‘You write interestingly only about the things that genuinely interest you. This is an infallible rule in writing, you have to be able to distinguish between those things about which you are merely curious –things you heard about last week or read about yesterday- and things which are a deep part of your life… So you say, ‘What part of my life would I die to be separated from?’

“The Seven Sorrows” apparently seems to be a composition of plain verses that are associated with the feeling of season of fall. The seven stanzas indicate the seven different kinds of afflictions that occur during this season and each of them has a different significance. Hughes marks this difference by a subtle change in each stanza. “The slow good bye” is repeated in every alternate stanza and in between the contrast of the feeling of sorrow for the joy of the other is mentioned as the multiple impact of the season on different people and this is very potently expressed with the help of rich imagery and with the help of application of parallel feelings of joy and sadness and life and death.

The “Daffodils” is another poem that is lyrically narrated. It seems to be autobiographical in its text and some critics say that it tells about the poor days when Hughes married Sylvia Plath and they spent time under financial constraints. The title “Daffodils” do remind us of Wordsworth at the very first glance but definitely in the context the reflection of daffodils in Hughes is more of a symbol of helplessness and misery of those who have little opportunities in their life and cannot avail much out of them. As it’s mentioned in the poem that those daffodils only earned the couple “seven pence a dozen” and were more of a source of living than as Wordsworth had claimed his daffodils to be in the following lines:

“I gazed — and gazed — but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:”

This unique association with the daffodils especially in the form of poetry transforms the poetic diction and style of composition and formation of verses into Hughes individual contextual and poetical intellect. This is how he manages to project the aesthetical repulsion for the beauty of Nature and with a seductive violence in his tone and imagery he over powers the urge to love and prefers remain gaudily hostile towards the Nature and her elements. Although Hughes is a great admirer of Shakespeare but he seems to learn the bitter lessons from his tragic heroes and does not become the victim in the hands of merciless Nature and deceitful Fate.

“The Pike” is one of Hughes animal poems. As many critics called Hughes as an animal poet thus it can be figured out from “The Pike” that since Hughes violent and aggressive impulse in his imagery is so strong and poignant in its impact that the sense that Hughes intends to produce in his verses cannot be ignored at all. The appraisal and application of violence and aggression in his animal poems is another mysterious feature of Hughes poetic intellect. And he manages to further mystify with the help of his artistry as a painter of images with his impregnated expressions. “The Pike” being a poem on a killer fish enthrall the reader to not only initially admire and then dread this hostile animal but the lyrics of this poem also have a mesmerizing impact on the minds of the reader. Hughes makes the reader see what a naked eye may not see with the lines like the following he writes verses that are sensed beyond the physical dimensions:

Owls hushing the floating woods
Frail on my ear against the dream
Darkness beneath night’s darkness had freed,
That rose slowly toward me, watching.

Through his animal poems Ted Hughes intends to establish a connection between the normal human mind and paranormal animal instinct by developing the intensity of admiration of the aesthetics of killing and ability to be invincible. This admiration and inspiration that Hughes seeks from the violence and hostility of such animals can be observed as a feature in contrast to his repulsion for the aesthetic of Nature.  This can be deduced that Hughes wants his reader to realize that man’s originality lies in its being hostile and violent and not in being beautiful or perhaps he wants to enjoy the power of being invincible and violent himself by imagining these animals to the extent of being alive and animated in his words and create the effect of awe and horror in the minds of readers.

The kind of savagery that Hughes admires in the Pike is very much apparent in Joseph Conrad’s character Marlow of “Heart Of Darkness”. Thus the post colonialism state of mind of the twentieth century could not be ignored in the works of Hughes. There are other similarities that can be found between the general subject of The Heart of Darkness and “The Pike”, such as ‘darkness’, search for the prey and ultimately battling for it.

In the entire poem, Hughes has been successful in collecting and putting together images that lets the reader experience a different world. Hughes provided his readers a chance to transmigrate their souls into a different being and with the help of such metaphysical technique he lets his reader travel beyond their existence. And being successful in invading the minds of the readers he enjoys the feeling of being a predator himself.

By bridging the gap of intellect and instinct between the natural and human worlds, we are able to critically evaluate our capabilities in a much more better way. Ted Hughes may not be called a poet of “Nature” as Wordsworth was but he surely can be called a poet of ‘nature’ which proves to set new trends to perceive realities beyond their physical existence and evokes the capability within the readers to disbelief the belief and to seek the truth in the negating what is apparent to our naked eyes.

Ted Hughes is known to be one of the most eminent poets of the twentieth century perhaps because he not only intended but also managed to be successful in diverting the axis of the human psyche had been a victim of the twentieth century mishaps and sufferings. In these poems we can observe that Hughes has managed to preach stoicism, rebellion, aggression and aggression towards the hostility of the adversary rather than giving lessons of tolerance, love, peace and harmony which may seemed hypocritical to Hughes in comparison to the existing environment. As the critic Robert B. Shaw wrote,

“Hughes’s poetry signaled a dramatic departure from the prevailing modes of the period…The stereotypical poem of the time was determined not to risk too much: politely domestic in its subject matter, understated and mildly ironic in style. By contrast, Hughes marshaled a language of nearly Shakespearean resonance to explore themes which were mythic and elemental.”


Heany, Seamus. “A Wounded Power Rises from the Depth”: In The Irish Times Jan 27th 1998.

Hughes, Ted. “ Poetry In the Making”: London, Faber and Faber 1967

Wordsworth, William. “Daffodils” Poem taken from the internet.

Lyall, Sarah. “ Ted Hughes, 68 a symbolic poet and Sylvia Plath’s husband, dies”: In the New York Times, October 30th 1998.

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